Another complicating factor in my gluten-free life is dealing with multiple food reactions. The additional foods I’ve had to eliminate are flaxseed, guar gum, and vinegar. My hope is that one day I can permanently reintroduce these foods back into my diet, that the reactions are just temporary.
In January 2012, I decided to start adding two tablespoons of ground flaxseed to my breakfast each day for the additional nutrition and fiber. I was hoping it would help with my digestive issues. Nearly two months later, I started to have some pretty severe stomach pains. I remember being at church and hardly being able to sing because of the pain. It seemed like stressful situations made it worse, so I thought it was due to stress. I also started taking Pepto Bismol and antacids, hoping it would help to relieve my symptoms. In mid-March, I had my annual physical. I had my blood work done and then went in for my appointment later that day. The doctor came in and asked me if I had any allergies. I just mentioned my usual seasonal allergies. She then told me that my eosinophil count was really high, at 40%. She had me meet with a hematologist to figure out what was going on. The hematologist had more blood drawn for additional tests, which thankfully all came back negative. She also told me to eliminate anything new I had introduced in the past year to see if my counts would go back down. The daily flaxseed stood out as a major thing I had started doing. When I cut it out, I started feeling a lot better. When I reintroduced it by eating some Smart Balance spread, I started having symptoms again. I cut the flaxseed out from that point. I realized it was the cause of my increased eosinophils when later testing revealed that my levels were back to normal, even after going back to the other things I had cut out.
Shortly after cutting gluten, I decided to start phasing out dairy products as well. I’d been drinking a protein shake with dairy ingredients for breakfast, so I decided to switch to a dairy-free substitute. I found a powder that tasted horrible mixed with water, so I decided to mix it with coconut milk instead. Over the months, I started having worsening GI symptoms. Like with the flaxseed earlier that year, I decided to start thinking about new things I had started doing, and the protein shake stood out since I was drinking it most days of the week. I stopped the shake and started feeling better. I figured it had to be either the powder or the coconut milk. I had made a baked good with the coconut milk that I didn’t want to waste, so I continued to eat it. I still felt fine. I never really figured out what was causing my problems until I had some hummus one day and noticed my GI symptoms returning the next day. The ingredient the hummus and coconut milk had in common was guar gum. I cut it out of uncooked things like the coconut milk and hummus, which helped, but I still ate cooked/baked items that contained it. About two years later, I started to notice worsening symptoms after consuming baked/cooked foods with guar gum in them, so I decided I needed to cut out guar gum altogether.
As I approached my two-year anniversary of being gluten-free, I started to notice some of my familiar gluten exposure symptoms, like acne, returning. I began to worry because I thought I had cut out everything that was causing a problem and wasn’t sure what to try next. I had begun researching some extremely restrictive diets that people who are gluten-free but continuing to have problems would try in order to heal their guts and go back to their regular diets. The idea of trying such diets terrified me. One thing I had thought might have caused problems in the past that I wanted to try again was chia seeds. I tried them one Sunday morning for breakfast and felt fine after eating them. However, after lunch that day, I got an upset stomach. I continued to have GI symptoms throughout the week following, and I thought the chia seeds were to blame. A few weeks later, I had a pickle for a snack one afternoon. I began to feel fatigued and got extremely bloated that night. I felt some better the next day, but the following day, I had a bagel with some guacamole spread for breakfast. I felt miserable for most of the rest of the day. I started to think about vinegar and how vinegar derived from gluten-based grains could cause problems for some. However, when I checked the pickles on the manufacturer’s website, I found that the vinegar was made from corn. I never could determine the source of the vinegar in the guacamole. I never called the manufacturer to ask, and the website didn’t have the information there. I also remembered that the Sunday afternoon I had an upset stomach, it was after having salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. I then decided I’d just try cutting vinegar to see what would happen. Within a few days I could tell that I was feeling a lot better. I figured I must be reacting to the vinegar itself, apart from gluten, so I decided to continue keeping vinegar out of my diet and found recipes to make my own mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish, and pimento cheese. By this time I had reintroduced dairy and found that I had no problems with it, so I found a recipe to make pimento cheese with my homemade mayonnaise. I was very happy that I didn’t have to try any of the scary restrictive diets to relieve my symptoms, and I have also added chia seeds to my diet. I finally realized that I did not react to them.
It may seem easier dealing with reactions to foods that are not one of the top eight allergens, but I don’t think this is always true. I had to leave a gluten-free bakery empty-handed because they could not find any items in their shop that did not include any of the ingredients I was avoiding. At gluten-free expo events, I have to request the packaging of the samples so I can see what they contain before trying anything, and I have to scan through the entire ingredients list of each one because none of my reactive foods are listed in “contains” statements. Of course, with being extremely sensitive to trace gluten, I can’t really try samples that I have to eat with my hands anyway. I thought when I reintroduced dairy that I could go out for an ice cream or a milkshake, enabling me to get something other than a cup of soda, but I discovered that the ice cream used by the fast food places I checked contained guar gum. I was very disappointed. Guar gum appears in many dairy products. I have to make my own whipped topping as I have not been able to find one without guar gum. While brands without it do exist, I have to look hard to find cream cheese, ice cream, cottage cheese, and other products without guar gum added. I’m very grateful Daisy exists, as their products only contain simple ingredients with no gums or stabilizers added. Flaxseed was easy enough to avoid before I went gluten-free, but after I went gluten-free, I found that many multi-grain bread and cracker products contain flaxseed. I’ve had to opt for the less-nutritious white breads and plain crackers. I use olive oil and McCormick seasoning mixes to dress my salads. I don’t even want to try eating out sometimes because of my strange list of reactive foods. I remember the
reaction of one of the people behind the counter at another gluten-free bakery to my list. She wasn’t mean about it or anything, but she certainly thought my list was something else. I’m sure she doesn’t get many, if any, customers with off-the-wall food reactions like mine.
Another thing that really frustrates me about my food reactions is that I have no idea what they are. They seem to be very specific and disparate, with no common thread among them. Guar gum is the only gum I have a problem with, and I can’t find anything in common among it, flaxseed, vinegar, and gluten. I don’t know if these reactions are allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances. I’ve tried to read and research, and there seems to be a lot of conflicting and contradictory information out there. That makes things really confusing to figure out. An allergist that I had asked about my vinegar reaction didn’t seem to think it could lead to anaphylaxis, so she didn’t think it was an allergy. She thought I could try reintroducing with a small amount to see how I handled it. She was definitely concerned about the flaxseed and didn’t want me to try reintroducing that one on my own. At the time, I had not eliminated guar gum completely, and we really didn’t talk much about my reaction to it. I believe from what little I did say about it, she didn’t think it was an allergy either. I have started to wonder more about my gluten reaction and about the possibility it could actually be an allergy because I have almost immediate symptoms from very small traces. Even my doctor, when I saw her earlier this month, seemed surprised by some of the ways I’ve found that I’ve become exposed to gluten and have had noticeable symptoms. She said she puts me right up there with her most sensitive celiac patients. With all this in mind, I decided to get some Zyrtec and try taking some whenever I have an exposure to any of my reactive foods to see if it makes a difference. Hopefully whatever happens with the antihistamine will provide answers. I’m hoping one day all of this will make sense somehow and even more am hoping that the reactions to the vinegar, guar gum, and flaxseed are just temporary. Once I feel like I have things straightened out with my gluten exposures, where they’re happening a lot less often than they are now and when I’m consistently feeling well, I hope to reintroduce these foods. I’m hoping I’ll have no reactions to them and can make them a permanent part of my diet again.
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